the beauty of opto-electrical compression – volume 2

When I was looking for a sophisticated stereo compressor for the outboard studio rack a year ago, I was surprised to see how many of the more interesting models now use opto-electric compression technology. Whether transparent or coloring, tube or solid-state amplifiers, transformer or transformerless, even two-channel layouts in mid/side encoding: far advanced compared to all the classic mono replicas.

Optical compressors are usually characterized by their distinct program-dependent compression behavior, mainly based on a physical memory effect in the detector itself. Other subtle nuances are found across the frequency spectrum that affect timing and curve characteristics, creating a complexity that cannot be reduced to simple two-stage controlled release curves, and which is the beauty of opto-electrical compression in its entirety.

Significant audio signal colorations, however, are shaped not by the gain reduction circuitry but by the make-up gain amplifier, whether it is tube or solid-state. Here, the audio transformer also plays an important role in polishing the transients and creating a cohesive sound.

ThrillseekerLA was designed from the beginning in 2012 as a modern stereo compressor with exciting sound coloring possibilities. It is a compressor with authentic opto-electric control behavior in feed-forward circuit topology.

The upcoming mkII update is a technical redesign dedicated solely to improving the sound. It delivers a unique box tone with thrilling bass and elegant top end void of any harshness in the mids. The compression not only glues everything together effortlessly, but also enhances the stereo image by adding depth and dimension.

The release is scheduled for mid-December.

now that we’ve reinvented 8-bit audio – what’s next?

Gone are the days when choosing the right noise shaping for dithering was a headache and we were still dreaming of Hires Audio as the glorious upcoming consumer format. In the end, it was more important to us to make everything brutally loud. As if it could otherwise be overheard in all the streaming mush: Radio and advertising have led the way, after all, and in the realm of asocial media, the cry for attention is naturally even louder. A pleasant sound, transient-rich and detailed? Forget it! The pitiful remainder of dynamics could now be packaged in 8-bit, lossless. That’s how it looks. The other day I saw a report about audiophiles who still and tirelessly spare neither expense nor effort to optimize the sound at home down to the smallest detail, which seemed unintentionally comical in this context. But it seems just as anachronistic today to spend such an immense technical effort for an inferior production performance. How can this be justified? Surely any stock EQ, a decent multiband compressor and limiter should suffice. In the attached video, the evolution of EDM is outlined in fast forward from the 80s to 2020. Regardless of the qualities of the codecs, this shows very impressively the decline in technical production quality over the years and the side effects of the increase in loudness. Now that we have successfully ruined audio quality, the question remains: What’s next?

the history of Cubase

When Cubase 3.0 came out in 1996 and introduced VST for the first time with all its new and fascinating possibilities, that was the point where I decided to get more involved in music production and set up a small (home) recording studio. VST was the basis for all this and how I imagined a modern (computer based) studio production. What a revolution that was. Watching this video today brings up a lot of nostalgic feelings …

dream studio

Korg Retrospective

TesslaPRO mkIII released

the magic is where the transient happens

The Tessla audio plugin series once started as a reminiscence to classic transformer based circuit designs of the 50s and 60s but without just being a clone stuck in the past. The PRO version has been made for mixing and mastering engineers working in the digital domain but always missing that extra vibe delivered by some highend analog devices.

TesslaPRO brings back the subtle artifacts from the analog right into the digital domain. It sligthly colors the sound, polishes transients and creates depth and dimension in the stereo field to get that cohesive sound we’re after. All the analog goodness in subtle doses: It’s a mixing effect intended to be used here and there, wherever the mix demands it.

The mkIII version is a technical redesign, further refined to capture all those sonic details while reducing audible distortions at the same time. It further blurs the line between compression and saturation and also takes aural perception based effects into account.

Available for Windows VST in 32 and 64bit as freeware. Download your copy here.

a brilliant interview

that unique plate reverb sound

Unlike digital reverberation, the plate reverb is one of the true analog attempts in recreating convincing reverberation build right into a studio device. It is basically an electro-mechanical device containing a plate of steel, transducers and a contact microphone to pickup the induced vibrations from that plate.

The sound is basically determined by the physical properties of the plate and its mechanical damping. Its not about reflecting waves from the plates surface but about the propagation of waves within the plate. While the plate itself has a fixed, regular shaped size and can be seen as a flat (two dimensional) room itself it actually does not produce early reflection patterns as we are used to from real rooms with solid walls. In fact there are no such reflections distinguishable by human hearing. On the other hand there appears to be a rather instant onset and the reverb build-up has a very high modal density already.

Also reverb diffusion appears to be quite unique within the plate. The wave propagation through metal performs different compared to air (e.g. speed/frequency wise) and also the plate itself – being a rather regular shape with a uniform surface and material – defines the sound. This typically results in a very uniform reverb tail although the higher frequencies tend to resonate a little bit more. Also due to the physics and the damping of the plate, we usually do not see hear very long decay times.

All in all, the fast and consistent reverb build up combined with its distinct tonality defines that specific plate reverb sound and explains why it is still so much beloved even after decades. The lack of early reflections can be easily compensated for just by adding some upfront delay lines to improve stereo localization if a mix demands it. The other way around, the plate reverb makes a perfect companion for all kinds of delay effects.

BootEQ mkIII released

BootEQ mkIII – a musical sounding Preamp/EQ

BootEQ mkIII is a musical sounding mixing EQ and pre-amplifier simulation. With its
four parametric and independent EQ bands it offers special selected and musical
sounding asymmetric and proportional EQ curves capable of reproducing several
‘classic’ EQ curves and tones accordingly.

It provides further audio coloration capabilities utilizing pre-amplifier harmonic distortion as well as tube and transformer-style signal saturation. Within its mkIII incarnation, the Preamp itself contains an opto-style compression circuit providing a very distinct and consistent harmonic distortion profile over a wide range of input levels, all based now on a true stateful saturation model.

Also the EQ curve slopes has been revised, plugin calibration takes place for better gain-staging and metering and the plugin offers zero latency processing now.

Available for Windows VST in 32 and 64bit as freeware. Download your copy here.

sustaining trends in audio land, 2022 edition

Forecasts are difficult, especially when they concern the future – Mark Twain

In last years edition about sustaining trends in audio land I’ve covered pretty much everything from mobile and modular, DAW and DAW-less up to retro outboard and ITB production trends. From my point of view, all points made so far are still valid. However, I’ve neglected one or another topic which I’ll now just add here to that list.

The emergence of AI in audio production

What we can currently see already in the market is the ermergence of some clever mixing tools aiming to solve very specific mixing tasks, e.g. resonance smoothing and spectral balancing. Tools like that might be based on deep learning or other smart and sophisticated algorithms. There is no such common/strict “AI” definition and we will see an increasing use of the “AI” badge even only for the marketing claim to be superior.

Some other markets are ahead in this area, so it might be a good idea to just look into them. For example, AI applications in the digital photography domain are already ranging from smart assistance during taking a photo itself up to complete automated post processing. There is AI eye/face detection in-camera, skin retouching, sky replacement and even complete picture development. Available for all kinds of devices, assisted or fully automated and in all shades of quality and pricing.

Such technology not only shapes the production itself but a market and business as a whole. For example, traditional gate keepers might disappear because they are no longer necessary to create, edit and distribute things but also the market might get flooded with mediocre content. To some extend we can see this already in the audio domain and the emergence of AI within our production will just be an accelerator for all that.

The future of audio mastering

Audio Mastering demands shifted slightly over the recent years already. We’ve seen new requirements coming from streaming services, the album concept has become less relevant and there was (and still is) a strong demand for an increased loudness target. Also, the CD has been loosing relevance but Vinyl is back and has become a sustaining trend again, surprisingly. Currently Dolby Atmos gains some momentum, but the actual consumer market acceptance remains to be proven. I would not place my bet on that since this has way more implications (from a consumer point of view) than just introducing UHD as a new display standard.

Concerning the technical production, a complete ITB shift – as we’ve seen it in the mixing domain – has not been completed yet but the new digital possibilities like dynamic equalizing or full spectrum balancing are slowly adopted. All in all, audio mastering slowly evolves along the ever changing demands but remains surprisingly stable, sustaining as a business and this will probably continue for the next (few) years.

Social Media, your constant source of misinformation

How To Make Vocals Sound Analog? Using Clippers For Clean Transparent Loudness. Am I on drugs now? No, I’ve just entered the twisted realm of social media. The place where noobs advice you pro mixing tips and the reviews are paid. Everyone is an engineer here but its sooo entertaining. Only purpose: Attention. Currency: Clicks&Subs. Tiktok surpassed YT regarding reach. Content half-life measured in hours. That DISLIKE button is gone. THERE IS NO HOPE.

The (over-) saturated audio plugin market and the future of DSP

Over the years, a vast variety of vendors and products has been flooded the audio plugin market, offering literally hundreds of options to choose from. While this appears to be a good thing at first glance (increaed competition leads to lower retail prices) this has indeed a number of implications to look at. The issues we should be concerned the most about are the lack of innovation and the drop in quality. We will continue to see a lot of “me too” products as well as retro brands gilding their HW brands with yesterday SW tech.

Also, we can expect a trend of market consolidation which might appear in different shapes. Traditionally, this is about mergers and aquisitions but today its way more prominently about successfully establishing a leading business platform. And this is why HW DSP will be dead on the long run becuse those vendors just failed in creating competitive business platforms. Other players stepped in here already.